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1 week ago

Amazon Echo vs. Google Home: Which works best with Philips Hue

16

Making the lights dim when you proclaim "It's movie time" to everyone in your house is kinda awesome.

There are a lot of fantastic things you can do with smart lighting, from subtle adjustments to mood and awareness to crazy color raves when you want to freak the dog out. It's a convenience for most, but it's becoming less expensive to set up in your home every day and well-worth checking out if you can.

A big part of that smarter experience can be control with your voice, and while Google Home and Amazon Echo both support the ability to control lights with your voice, the details are very different. Here's what you need to know!

Set up

Philips Hue bulbs, which are my favorite of the connected bulbs, offer an API for just about any app to reach in and give commands to your lights once you've given approval. As a result, both Google Home and Amazon Echo offer similar initial connection steps. You use the app on your phone to connect to the Hue bridge, which involves tapping the little button on the box near your router, and moments later you can control individual Hue lights through these services.

Once you've made that connection, things are wildly different. Amazon has its own system in the Alexa app for organizing smart home hardware into individual rooms, so you can say things like "turn off the bedroom lights" and have everything assigned to that room turn off. This isn't a huge deal, unless you have a lot of Hue lights and have already organized your bulbs by room in the Hue app. None of that information is imported by Alexa, so you have to basically set all of your lights up a second time.

Google Home, on the other hand, imports your room selections from the Hue app and adds them to the Home app. It also offers a simple tool from within the app for quickly moving lights to other rooms, instead of just a set of register/unregister check boxes. It's a great deal more user-friendly, especially if you've already spent a lot of time setting up your lights and exploring how you want those lights to work in your home.

Using your voice

Google and Amazon both earn high marks for performance when it comes to actually controlling the lights. There's no performance drop when compared to using the Hue app, and voice recognition on both Echo and Home is exceptional, so misfires are rare. That having been said, it's clear Google Home is a great deal more integrated with Hue than Echo is right now.

If you want to control whole rooms for brightness and darkness, the experiences between these two connected speakers is essentially identical. If you want to control individual bulbs and you've assigned personal names to those bulbs, you'll find Google Home is much better at finding the right single bulb and adjusting it as you see fit. The same goes for color changing; Google Home will quickly turn your lights whichever color you ask, where as Amazon Echo is really only built for on and off and dimming right now.

Neither connected speaker can replicate every single feature in the Philips Hue app, but through IFTTT, Google Home gets a great deal closer. The IFTTT channel for Google Home lets you create multiple phrases for individual commands, so you can be very flexible and occasionally downright silly with the things you want to do with these speakers.

On Google Home, I can say "OK Google, get those kids out of bed!" and have IFTTT start a multicolor light show in their rooms. With an Echo, I'd have to say "Alexa, trigger get those kids out of bed!" to accomplish the same. One is clearly not as natural as the other.

Which is better? Google Home

Google Home

If your goal is to add natural language commands to your Philips Hue bulbs with as little compromise as possible on features, it couldn't be more clear Google Home is what you want right now. It's just plain better for multiple users in a house full of Hue bulbs right now.

See at Best Buy

Amazon Echo

That having been said, if you're new to smart lighting or you only really want to control rooms with your voice, Alexa gets the job done. Amazon has also demonstrated an ability to rapidly improve Alexa when necessary, so it's possible these issues won't be around for very long.

See at Amazon

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1 week ago

The best streaming video box for most people is a Roku

32

Sure, we tend to prefer Android TV around here. But beyond that, the best all-around streaming video box for most people absolutely is the Roku.

So you're cutting the cable TV cord. Good for you. And we've already established that the NVIDIA Shield TV is the best Android TV box. But what if you don't want to dive that far into Android? (Crazy, I know.) Which streaming box is the best? Easy answer. For most folks, Roku is going to be the best bang for your buck.

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First: Why a Roku? It pretty much has every streaming service available. (Everything except Apple content because Apple is why we can't have nice things.) It's got PlayStation Vue. Sling. Amazon. Google. Netflix. Chromecast. YouTube. So many different "channels" that for as long as I've had a Roku I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. (DirecTV Now is listed as coming eventually.)

Why a Roku Ultra, though, when there are sticks for a third of the cost? You get what you pay for. Yeah, the stick is cheap and can do a decent job, but if you want 4K resolution and HDR and USB media and a better remote and private listening and ... Basically it's way more future proof, and tended to handle the streams for me better. If you just want a test of how all this works, fine. A stick will do. But if you're serious about it, it's worth spending the extra money.

See at Amazon

Modern Dad

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1 week ago

Best accessories for the LG G6

4

Purchase accessories for your LG G6 today so you're ready to go on day one!

The LG G6 doesn't officially ship until April 7, but that doesn't mean you can't start stocking up on great accessories for your phone. Case manufacturers get early access to the latest devices so they can perfectly craft their products to fit a phone's dimensions, so you can buy with confidence knowing these cases were specifically designed for your new phone.

We've also included a few other essential accessories you should definitely consider.

Spigen Rugged Armor

Spigen's Rugged Armor case is always a great option to protect your new phone, so of course we're going to recommend it for your LG G6.

This one-piece case offers great protection for your phone while keeping a mostly sleek and slim profile. Made of flexible and durable TPU material that makes it easy to install, it's got a premium look to it with carbon fiber textures at the top and bottom on the back. Featuring cutouts around the camera and fingerprint scanner on the back, and with tactile buttons for the volume control on the side, this case feels natural in hand while ensuring all your phone's functionality remains intact.

For a stylish case that offers quality protection, get the Spigen Rugged Armor case for your G6.

See at Amazon

SUPCASE Full body Rugged Holster Case for LG G6

If keeping your new investment in good condition is important, you'll want to slap a rugged case on your phone. SUPCASE provides some of the sturdiest cases you'll find for smartphones, so you can buy with confidence here.

SUPCASE offers full protection for your phone, with a front plate that includes a built-in screen protector and port covers for the headphone jack and charging port. Made from a combination of TPU and polycarbonate materials, your phone will be protected from anything life throws your way.

Ideal for heavy use and outdoorsmen, it also ships with a 360-degree swiveling belt clip holster so your phone is always within arms reach.

See at Amazon

Tronsmart Dual USB Car Charger w/ Quick Charge 3.0 technology

Tronsmart's car charger with a built-in USB-C cable is a great option for keeping your LG G6 juiced while on the road.

The built-in USB-C cable is convenient, since you'll never need to remember your cable each time you drive. The included USB Type-A port is handy for charging another device at the same time via Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0.

If you need a car charger that to keep your LG G6 charged when you're on the go, check out the Tronsmart 33W dual USB charger.

See at Amazon

Spigen Tempered Glass Screen Protector

Spigen's tempered glass screen protectors are available in a very affordable two-pack, which will let you keep that brand new LG G6 screen protected right out of the box.

This screen protector will cover the entirety of the screen while still remaining case friendly. This is a dry install screen protector with everything you need for a clean, dust-free installation on your first attempt included in the package. You can buy with confidence knowing that Spigen offers a lifetime warranty for any product defects.

See at Amazon

Samsung EVO+ 256GB microSD card

The LG G6 offers storage expansion up to 2TB via microSD. While a 2TB microSD card doesn't yet exist, it's good to know that this phone is virtually future-proof when it comes to storage.

For now, your best bet for expanding your phone's storage is Samsung's 256GB EVO+ microSD card. Featuring read speeds of up to 95MB/sec and write speeds up to 90MB/sec, this card is plenty fast enough to handle storing all the photos and videos you take with your G6, while also letting you load up all your favorite media so you have your favorite music and movies with you on the go.

At over $150, it might be too pricey for some, and that's ok. Check out our other MicroSD card recommendations for your Android phone.

See at Amazon

Anker Micro-USB to USB-C adapter (2-pack)

If the LG G6 is your first Android phone that relies on USB-C charging cables, chances are you've got a stockpile of Micro-USB cables laying around that are about to become fairly obsolete. If you want to be able to use your old Micro-USB cables with the G6, you'll want to pick up this two-pack of Anker adapters. They're cheap and will get the job done, especially if you've got chargers or devices that have integrated cables you can't easily swap out.

See at Amazon

LG G6

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1 week ago

You can now buy the HTC Ultra in Canada for a cool grand

21

The HTC U Ultra has come to Canada at a steep price.

There were a number of beautiful photos of the HTC U Ultra I could have chosen for this post, because the phone is very nicely made. Its reflective glass shimmers in the light in a way that no other does. It's also $749 USD.

Now, Canadians can get in on the fun, with the U Ultra available unlocked through HTC's website for a cool grand. That's $999 CAD.

Available in three choice colors — blue, white, and black — the phone has all the makings of a great flagship, but as Andrew Martonik points out in his review, there just aren't many reasons to buy one over the many cheaper and better alternatives:

HTC continues to get the basics right with flagships. The U Ultra has a great screen, amazing build quality and stunning design. You get just about every spec inside you'd expect, and the day-to-day performance as a result is fantastic with a super-smooth software experience. Unfortunately, HTC's camera performance once again lags behind the pack, its secondary display is all but useless and there's no headphone jack or waterproofing — all in a phone that's charging a premium price of $999 CAD.

If you can get over those things, the HTC U Ultra is still a great device with some awesome HTC-built software.

See at HTC

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1 week ago

Google makes searching on Android better with new Shortcuts feature

10

Google has introduced yet another way to search on Android.

There is no shortage of ways to find things on an Android device. If you've bought a phone in the last couple of years, it's more than likely you have a Google search bar on your main homescreen — Google requires it as part of its certification process — and some phones, including its Nexus and Pixel line, have the Artist Formerly Known As Google Now, now known merely as the Feed, to the left of the main homescreen.

Well, Google still thinks searching for specific topics is too difficult, because it's introducing a new Shortcuts menu within the Feed that's meant to simplify the process of getting in-depth information.

Getting up-to-the-minute info is as easy as a single tap. With shortcuts right on the home screen, you now have access to in-depth experiences across sports, eat & drink, entertainment and weather. Need to know whether to bring a raincoat tomorrow? Want the score to last night's basketball game? Looking for what's on TV tonight or who's nominated for best supporting actress? Shortcuts on Google will get you there.

Android users will find dozens of other useful shortcuts too—translate, nearby attractions, flights, hotels, internet speed test, currency converter, and more. Plus, if you're looking for fun, there are shortcuts like tic-tac-toe, roll a die, animal sounds, solitaire, and always a Google favorite: I'm feeling curious.

What's interesting about this is that Shortcuts presumably makes it easier to get sports scores, movie times and other pieces of information people often search for. But it's also putting web apps like Google Translate and Google Trips — experiences that are available as native apps on Android — front and center in the experience.

The feature is rolling out first to Android, iOS and mobile web users U.S., with more countries expected to come in the next few months.

What do you think of Shortcuts? Is it useful, or just another set of icons cluttering up the Feed?

Android Nougat

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1 week ago

U.S. bans laptops and tablets on flights from eight Middle East countries

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Travelers from eight Muslim-majority countries are prohibited from carrying devices larger than a smartphone onboard U.S.-bound flights.

The Department of Homeland Security is rolling out new restrictions for carry-on items for U.S.-bound flights from eight Middle East countries. Electronic devices larger than a smartphone are prohibited from being carried onboard flights from nine airlines operating out of 10 airports in eight countries. People flying from these airports will have to stow laptops, e-readers, portable gaming devices, and cameras in their check-in baggage.

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1 week ago

Nintendo and Cyanogen almost partnered for the Switch

22

Nintendo was flirting with Android again, but it looks like Cyanogen didn't pick up.

You know that massively successful new console Nintendo can't keep in stores? The one that smashed Nintendo's own sales records and caused the company to dramatically ramp up production to meet demand? Apparently the OS for that console was almost based largely on Android, but Cyanogen's Kirt McMaster put a stop to that according to his Twitter feed.

From a fun, nerdy perspective, it would have been kind of cool to know the Switch was based on Android. And, knowing some of the nice performance enhancement things Cyanogen projects had been capable of, it's not impossible to imagine a Switch that was even more capable as a result of that custom OS. But that's what it would have been, a custom closed down version of Android that didn't look anything like the OS you see on tablets and phones. It would have been an entirely unique and locked down thing, which was very much the opposite of what Cyanogen was all about as a company.

Lots of folks in the Android bubble hear the name Cyanogen and immediately think of CEO Kirt McMaster very publicly saying a lot of very silly things about how successful the company was going to be. With the company dismantled and its core features picking up steam as the community-led LineageOS, you may find yourself wondering how he feels about passing up something like opportunity to work on the Nintendo Switch.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but it looks like he'd be a little more "open" to the idea if it were to come back around. Given the complete lack of reputation these days, that second chance is a little more than unlikely.

Check out more of our Nintendo Switch coverage over on iMore!

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1 week ago

Samsung's Galaxy S8 Korean teaser hints at a world of possibilities

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Samsung starts hyping up the Galaxy S8 ahead of its official unveil on March 29.

Samsung has released a 15-second trailer for the Galaxy S8 in South Korea, showcasing little of the phone itself, a refreshing change in pace from the litany of leaks, rumors, and renders we've seen of the device in recent weeks.

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1 week ago

The first five things you need to know about Mass Effect: Andromeda

10

There is plenty to do in Mass Effect: Andromeda, so be ready to dive in.

The Mass Effect franchise has officially returned with the fourth installment in the series, and everything here is very shiny and new. A new galaxy, new set of characters, and plenty of new content to delve into. Don't be worried if you're a returning fan though, there are plenty of nods to the original trilogy, and this includes the alien races you know and love.

With a game as expansive as Mass Effect: Andromeda, knowing what to keep an eye out for early is a good call. That's why we've got 5 tips to help you get started exploring the Andromeda galaxy.

Scan all the things

You have a handy little scanner right on your arm which can be activated by dressing the down button on the directional pad. This allows you to scan your surroundings and see if there is anything hiding from your view. Do this. Do it often, and do it everytime that you enter a new area. Even during the initial planetside mission there is tons to see and explore. While you won't be able to access everything at the get go, you can still tag it for your eventual return.

Scanning the environment is such a small thing, but it really does make a difference. Since unscanned items pop up in bright orange, it makes it easier to find important items or alien technology you might otherwise miss. You can also use it to scan enemies whether they are alive or dead, which can be particularly handy when you're just getting started. Scanning unfamiliar tech and aliens will also net you research points which are used to unlock technologies in the game, and you want those technologies.

Cover is your friend

There are some games where you can stride around like a tank, blowing the face off of anything you come across without paying a price for that audacity. This, is not one of those games. Cover is important, you will need cover, or you will die. Repeatedly. I would know, because I learned this lesson the hard way. Taking cover will allow you to heal from your wounds, flank an enemy while they can't see you, and get a better read on what you are dealing with.

To break it down further, humans are not a dominant species in the Andromeda galaxy. There are more of them than there are of you, and sprinting around shooting sounds fun until you die three times in a row because there are seven aliens shooting at you simultaneously. Use cover if you want to survive.

Keep an eye out for containers

You shouldn't be surprised, but there are plenty of loot containers to be found scattered through the worlds you'll be exploring. Be sure to keep an eye out for them, because not all loot containers are made equal and some of them have some lucky items in store for you. The loot containers will have items that relate directly to the race that left it behind. This means on an Angaran world, you're going to find Angara loot of one kind or another. What you find is also randomized, using a dynamic loot generation, so you won't get the same result if you die and return to a specific box.

Salvage containers look like boxes left behind, and alien orbs scattered about. Generally they look a little bit broken, or mussed up, and are filled with salvage only usable for trading to merchants for credits. The boxes you really want are the normal containers, which look like boxes. More or less. Depending on the rarity, you can find anything from components for weapons to the weapon itself. By grabbing every container you see, you can ensure that you have a solid stock for selling to merchants, and using later for crafting.

Stay aware of your surroundings

While the planets you'll be exploring are the hope of a future for mankind, they are still a bit hostile at times and if you aren't paying attention to what is going on it's very easy to wind up dead. This is because the planets are covered in various hazards of varying severity. While the level 1 hazards can damage your health and be a nuisance, level 3 and 4 hazards can kill you quite quickly. It is worth mentioning high level hazards are usually indicative of an area that is currently off limits until you have progressed further.

For the most part, hazards are pretty easy to see. Green smoky haze, fire, ice, geysers, and lava are all examples of hazards that you will run into during your exploration. To avoid being wounded by the hazard, just avoid the hazard. The hazard level is also shown at the bottom left of your HUD, so that you are aware when you are entering a dangerous area unwittingly.

What are your tips?

There is tons to do, and plenty to explore within Mass Effect: Andromeda, but these tips should help you to get a running start when it comes to exploring the Andromeda galaxy. Find rare items, get the perks you need, and remember that you are in hostile territory and you should have the hang of things in no time flat. Just remember that this is just the beginning, and there will be plenty more to explore and discover. Do you have a tip for those just starting Mass Effect: Andromeda? Be sure to drop us a line in the comments below and let us know.

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PlayStation 4

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1 week ago

Galaxy S8 pre-orders may ship as early as Apr 18

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Galaxy S8

Expect a big pre-order push in Samsung's home market.

As it looks to draw a line under last year's Note 7 unpleasantness, Samsung is reportedly betting big on Galaxy S8 pre-orders. South Korean outlet The Investor reports that subsidized deals for the new flagship will be unveiled from April 7, with pre-orders shipping out to customers as soon as April 18. It's worth noting that this likely refers to Korea, not necessarily other parts of the world, where an April 28 ship date has been rumored.

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1 week ago

Xiaomi Redmi 4A hands-on: A decent phone at an unbeatable price

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Xiaomi Redmi 4A

The Redmi 4A solidifies Xiaomi's place in India's budget segment.

Xiaomi is sailing high in India — the company's Redmi Note 4 sold a million units in just 45 days, and the entry-level Redmi 3S is faring remarkably well in the country. Coupled with the immense success of the Redmi Note 3, Xiaomi is well on its way to continuing its dominance in the online segment.

The company is far from resting on its laurels, as evidenced by the launch of the Redmi 4A. With Samsung somehow managing to sell millions of units of the thoroughly underwhelming Galaxy J2, Xiaomi is positioning the Redmi 4A as a viable alternative.

Xiaomi's offering has much more going for it in the form of a 720p display, Snapdragon 425 SoC, 13-megapixel camera, and 3,120mAh battery. We've seen several decent phones often get waylaid on account of the price, but that isn't an issue for the Redmi 4A. With a retail price of ₹5,999 ($90), Xiaomi will be lucky if it can meet the insatiable demand for the device in the coming weeks.

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1 week ago

Android 7.1.2 beta 2 for Pixel C adds Pixel launcher, brand new multitasking interface

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Android 7.1.2 Beta for Pixel C

A great sign of cohesion for the old Pixel C getting with the times.

Android 7.1.2 beta 2 has started rolling out for Pixels and Nexuses, bringing some older devices up to speed with some new features. Sliding under the radar, at first, was the Pixel C, which actually seems to have received the largest changes. The latest beta release includes the Pixel launcher, as well as a brand new multitasking interface that makes multi-window management a bit more natural and altogether better looking.

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1 week ago

8 Important Considerations When Switching To An MVNO

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Before you make the switch you need to think about a few things.

Having good cellular service has become an important thing for most people. We use our phones for everything from keeping in touch to keeping entertained when we have a few quiet moments. It's pretty great that we have such powerful machines in our pockets and nobody is happy when their service lets them down. That's why it's worth taking your time and checking out a few things before you switch carriers.

This can be especially important when switching to a prepaid alternative carrier, also known as an MVNO. Because they aren't the ones installing new facilities and building out the physical networks they operate on, they sometimes have to do things a little differently. These differences usually mean the service is cheaper every month, but it can also pose a few problems if you haven't done your homework before you made the switch.

What is an alternative carrier?

That's what we're here for! Android phones and the service that powers them is our job and our hobby. We love to get in the mix and try things like switching away from the Big Four as much as we like writing about it. With that in mind, here are some things you need to think about when you're ready to switch to an MVNO as your new carrier.

Picking the carrier that works where you need it to

This needs to be the first thing you look at. MVNOs have the luxury of using the networks the Big Four have rolled out, and we all know that not everyone has equal coverage on every carrier.

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One of the best things you can do is talk to people you know and see what service they are using. If you hear a lot of praise for one particular carrier and complaints about another, you have a good starting point when it comes to picking the right MVNO. You can also check out the carrier coverage maps.

You need to make sure you know what you're looking at here. Nobody is trying to deceive you but they all want their map to look as good as it can. On each of the coverage map sites, you'll find some controls to filter the different types of coverage that are being shown. Make sure to have a look and compare the voice calling maps to the data connection maps, and make sure you are filtering to see the high-speed data coverage. And definitely make sure you're not looking at "partner" or roaming maps, as many MVNO carriers don't support that part of their parent carrier's coverage.

Finally, be cautious if you need to use your phone in areas on the fringe or edge of coverage maps. The maps are never exact, and if the map tells you service will degrade just a few blocks from where you need to be covered, you might not get service at all. These maps should be considered as a good estimate rather than any sort of exact science.

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Match your phone with the right network

One of the best parts about using an MVNO is that you can save even more money by using the phone you already paid for. As long as your phone works on at least one of the Big Four carriers in the U.S. there's an MVNO that offers great service for you.

It's not that difficult to make sure the MVNO you want to use supports the phone you already have. If you're up on all the technical jargon you can check the radio bands on your phone against the radio bands listed on every alternative carrier's website. You'll usually find these on the FAQ portion and if they match you're in business.

If you don't want to get bogged down in frequency numbers and all the different network bands, sites like WillMyPhoneWork can tell you if your phone is compatible with most any network worldwide.

We've built a list of popular MVNO carriers and which networks they operate on that can answer many of your questions right away!

How to make sure your phone works on a prepaid alternative carrier

You might need to get your phone unlocked

Most phones will need to be SIM unlocked before they can be used on another carrier. This has nothing to do with your phone's security (that's a different type of unlocking) and only lets your phone accept programming for a new network. Carriers have their phones SIM locked as a way to cut down on equipment loss — a locked phone only works on the carrier who locked it, and only as long as you're making the payments.

SIM unlocking won't affect your phones security.

In the U.S. carriers are required to unlock a phone once it's paid for. Most will also unlock a phone after you've been a customer for a while as a show of good faith. You can get your phone unlocked by the carrier by making a phone call or going into a store. Customer service will be happy to help you provided you've met any obligations they require. Because of some rules for using the frequency Verizon uses for 4G service, they are required to sell all their phones unlocked.

Getting your phone SIM unlocked is easy

There are also third-party unlocking services that will send you a code to unlock your phone. If you go this route, be sure to do a quick web search on the company to make sure they have decent customer feedback. Getting your phone unlocked by a third party is exactly the same as having a carrier do it; once the code is entered you're good and can use a phone on any compatible network.

Know how much data you need

Most of us don't need unlimited data. The Big Four have brought back unlimited plans for the people who do need them, and we think that's great! But if you're not someone who needs a ton of data every month you're probably overpaying if you sign up for one of them.

You can check how much data you've used recently pretty easily. Your phone has a setting in the Wireless and networks section that tells you how much you have used in the past 30 days, but it's a good idea to get a bigger sample size here. At your carrier's website you should find a statement for the past few months that will show how much data each phone number on the account used. Get an average for the past couple of months, then add 1GB to it for a "just in case" bumper.

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Take this number and look at the MVNO you're considering. Chances are there is a plan that will cover what you need. The best part? You don't have a contract and can adjust things next month if you need to!

Android Nougat gives you a great way to keep your data usage in check

What happens if you use all of your data for the month?

Life isn't static. Even with careful planning you might have a month where you had to use more data than you budgeted. It's important to know what happens and how you can add more data on a temporary basis.

Most every MVNO will sell "extra" data in 1GB increments. It's usually a little more than it would be if it were bundled into a pre-packged plan, but it won't be outrageous. Most companies charge about $10 per GB.

Buying extra data is always easy, but make sure you know how to do it before you need it.

What you need to do is check how you can add it right from your phone, so when you're close to using your allotted amount you can tap a few buttons and fill up your data bucket. You'll find this information on the company's website along with any other services they offer, such as international roaming or auto-refilling.

This is important because MVNOs aren't like the Big Four, and won't keep you connected then charge you overage fees (the good part) and instead usually cut you off completely once you've used all you have paid for (the bad part). Don't get stuck with no data and no way to buy more!

Some things cost extra or are not available

Wireless carriers can be strict about what they allow on their networks, and MVNOs are no different. Their business model — buy wireless service in bulk and resell with no frills — means they will have some restrictions on what you can and can't do, like tethering your phone or using your phone to call and text with someone outside of the U.S.

Chances are none of us are planning to run a server from our phone, but if you want to tether a laptop or tablet through your phone once in a while or call and text relatives in Mexico, you need to know the rules so you know what to expect. Many MVNOs will have simple and cost effective add-ons you can apply if you need more than just the basic service.

Just take the time to read the terms and see what you can and can't do while using the service. If you're unsure of anything you see, call or chat with a sales rep through the website and get squared away.

Advanced features may not work

Many of us have phones that support things like HD voice calls (VoLTE) or Wi-Fi calling. They're nice features if you use them regularly, but most of the time they are very phone and network specific. An MVNO may not have them at all, or you may need phones designed to run on a specific carrier to use them.

Advanced calling features require very specific phones.

This works the same way for the Big Four. If you want Verizon's HD Voice, for example, you'll need to have a phone that says Verizon on the back because it was built to the carrier's specs to use the service. Because most MVNOs don't sell phones under their own brand, you'll have to investigate if any of the features they offer need a specific brand of phone.

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Mint SIM offers Wi-Fi calling, and it works really well — as long as you have a phone that supports T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling feature. Verizon offers its own Wi-Fi calling but it's not supported on Mint SIM. Most phones that support Wi-Fi calling are built to work on both networks so you're OK with either a Verizon or T-Mobile phone, but not a Sprint or an AT&T phone. It can be a little confusing even to smartphone veterans!

You don't need any of these extras to have good, cheap cellular service. That's the best part. But if you see something you don't understand, you can drop a question in the comments and someone can help give you an answer.

Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Prioritization is a thing

Prioritization means a carrier like T-Mobile identifies which phones using the network are doing it through an MVNO and gives priority to their direct customers. Only a certain number of phones can be connected to a cell tower at a time, and we're always switching on and off to make sure everyone has a turn. We've all probably been somewhere that a lot of people were using their phones and the service got really slow — that's because the lines to get your turn were long and you noticed the wait time.

When things get extreme, MVNO customers can experience even slower service because direct customers are given priority. I use MVNO carriers almost exclusively because I love the value they offer. But I do get to see prioritization in action every year on The Mall in Washington, D.C. during the annual July Fourth celebration. There are three-quarters of a million people jammed into a four block area, and we're all on our phones. Folks who pay AT&T (for example) directly for service have very poor service. People like me using an MVNO have practically no service.

There's nothing you can do about this, and no secret hack you see on the internet is going to work. It just happens when there are way too many people using just a few towers. The rest of the year I get the same service I would have from one of the Big Four at a much lower price.

Bonus number 9 thing!

You're going to have extra money every month. You'll have the service you are used to in most every way, but it costs a lot less and you only have to pay for the amount you'll need. Some MVNOs only charge you for the exact amount you use!

Saving enough for a nice night on the town because you switched phone companies is a great feeling. You'll love it.

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1 week ago

Here's our best view yet of the Galaxy S8

105

Front to back, this is the best view of the Galaxy S8 so far.

Well, this is it: without seeing a leaked hands-on video with the device, this is about as good a perspective as you're going to get of the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Courtesy of Evan Blass, here is a series of Galaxy S8 renders (altered slightly by us) giving us a view of both the front and back of the upcoming flagship phone in two colors: black, and silver. It appears that the silver version has a black front face, along with metal sides that match the hue of the rear, while the all-black version maintains the "murdered out" aesthetic that debuted with the Galaxy Note 7 (and was subsequently released on the Galaxy S7).

The leak appears to be sourced from the same place as a previous one, but this time we have the matching rear view to round things out.

We also know, thanks to that previous leak, that the Galaxy S8 will likely debut in Europe at 799€, while the larger Galaxy S8+ will come in at 899€. You can expect a similar breakdown in the U.S.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+

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1 week ago

Android 7.1.2 beta 2 is here, and it brings new features to old phones

23

Android 7.1.2 has now received its second beta prior to the public release in April.

Users of Nexus and Pixel phones running the Android 7.1.2 beta can now download the second beta in the series, which fixes some bugs from the initial version released in January while bringing eligible phones that latest security updates.

The update is already hitting Pixel devices, along with the Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, Pixel C and Nexus Player, and brings the devices up to build NPG47I. It was announced on Google+ by Google's Orrin Hancock.

According to numerous reports, the Nexus 6P gains the popular "swipe-down-for-notifications" shortcut with the new version, which came to the Nexus 5X in a previous update. Perhaps the biggest update of the group is for the Pixel C, which gains the new Pixel launcher and a refreshed multitasking interface.

How to enroll in the Android 7.1.2 beta

We expect the final public version of Android 7.1.2 to roll out to all eligible devices in early April.

Android Nougat

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